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Genetically engineered (GE) cotton

  • Published
    7th Jun, 2023
Context

Recently, the approvals for the biosafety research trials (BRL) were revealed in the minutes of the 149th meeting of Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC).

  • Three states have refused to give ‘No-Objection Certificate (NOC)’for the trails.
Background:
  • GM cotton has been commercially cultivated since the mid-1990s and has gained widespread adoption in many countries, including the United States, India, China, and Brazil.
  • The primary aim of genetically engineered cotton is to improve its resistance to pests and diseases, increase its yield, and enhance its tolerance to herbicides.
About
  • Only Haryana has approved biosafety research trials (BRL) of genetically engineered (GE) cotton hybrids out of the four states, in which locations for such trials were chosen.
  • While Telangana and Gujarat have refused to give no objection certificates (NOC) for holding the trials in the 2023-24 cropping season.
  • Maharashtra has not responded yet.

In case no response is received from states within 30 days, the GEAC will make appropriate recommendations in this matter.

Why this NOC is important?

Agriculture is a state subject and state governments’ involvement is essential for compliance monitoring. Therefore the NOC system has to be followed.

The GE-Cotton:

  • Genetically engineered cotton, also known as genetically modified cotton or GM cotton, refers to cotton plants that have been altered through genetic engineering techniques to exhibit specific traits.
  • Genetic engineering involves;
    • The manipulation of an organism's genetic material, typically by introducing genes from other organisms, to confer desired characteristics.
  • The most prominent example of genetically engineered cotton is Bt cotton.

About Bt-cotton:

  • Bt cotton is engineered to produce a toxin derived from the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) that is toxic to certain insect pests, such as the bollworm.
  • This toxin helps protect the cotton plants from insect damage, reducing the need for synthetic insecticides and increasing yields.
  • Another trait commonly introduced in GM cotton is herbicide tolerance.

Recent GM-Cotton alterations:

  • A German multinational company ‘Bayer AG’is going to introduce the modification in cotton plant which will allow farmers to spray the herbicide ‘glyphosate’.
  • The transgenic cotton — Bollgard II Roundup Ready Flex (BG-II RRF) contains three alien genes;
    • the first two (‘cry1Ac’ and ‘cry2Ab’) being isolated from a soil bacterium,
    • Bacillus thuringiensis or Bt, and coding for proteins toxic to the American bollworm, spotted bollworm and tobacco caterpillar insect pests.
    • The third gene, ‘cp4-epsps’, is sourced from another soil bacterium, Agrobacterium tumafaciens.

Need of GE-Cotton:

  • The adoption of genetically engineered cotton has had significant impacts on cotton production globally. It has helped reduce pesticide use, increase crop yields, and improve farmers' profitability.

Cotton crop:

  • It is a Kharif crop that comes from the natural fibres of cotton plants, which are native to tropical and subtropical regions.
  • Being renewable and biodegradable, cotton is the most environmentally friendly raw material for the textile industry as compared to its synthetic alternatives.
  • Cotton plants have a large growing period which can extend up to 200 days.
  • Growing cotton starts between December and March.
  • These plants require a relatively high temperature (21-30°C) over a long growing season.
  • Cotton is a less water-intensive crop as it is a xerophyte, which can grow in dry, arid environments.

Cotton production in India:

  • India is the largest producer of cotton in the world and the third largest exporter.
  • It is also the largest consumer of cotton in the world.
  • Top Cotton Producing States in India are Gujarat and Maharashtra. Telangana, Andhra Pradesh.
  • India is the country to grow all four species of cultivated cotton;
    • arboreum
    • Herbaceum (Asian cotton)
    • barbadense (Egyptian cotton)
    • hirsutum (American Upland cotton).
  • hirsutum represents 94% of the hybrid cotton production in India and all the current Bt cotton hybrids are G. hirsutum.
  • India is the only country that grows cotton as hybrids and the first to develop hybrid cotton back in 1970.

Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC):

  • The Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) is the statutory committee constituted under the “Rules for the Manufacture, Use/Import/Export and Storage of Hazardous Micro Organisms/Genetically Engineered Organisms or Cells (Rules, 1989)” framed under Environment (Protection) Act, 1986.
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